Colourful. That’s one word to describe Alice Zaslavsky’s new cookbook, In Praise of Veg. Another is thorough.

The cookbook was awarded Illustrated Book of the Year at the Australian Book Industry Awards on April 28, 2021. And the almost 500-page kitchen companion includes profiles of 50 vegetable varieties and more than 150 recipes for transforming them into delicious creations. It’s a comprehensive and ambitious guide to vegetables – from carrots to kohlrabi, rhubarb, tubers and yuzu – full of delightful illustrations, observations and tips on buying and storing them.

“This is not a purely plant-based book, because that is not reflective of how my family – my husband Nick and our daughter Hazel (aka the Nut) – and I eat,” she writes in the book. “We are however, plant-forward, in that we start with the veg and build the dishes around them.”

This recipe comes from the cauliflower section. “When it comes to versatility, you can’t go past cauliflower,” she says.

It’s gluten-free and can easily be turned vegan by using coconut yoghurt for the dipping sauce. “Serve as a stunning share plate, or turn into a killer breakfast by popping a runny fried or scrambled egg or two alongside,” she advises.

Oh, and you've been warned: “If this book isn’t smattered with curry-leaf-oily fingerprints within the next hour, I’ll be quietly disappointed.”

KFC (Keralan fried cauliflower) with coconut chutney
Preparation time: 30 minutes (plus 15 minutes to an hour to chill)
Cooking time: 15 minutes
Serves 4–6 as a starter

Ingredients
½ head of cauliflower
1 cup (150g) chickpea flour
½ cup (75g) rice flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 tspn salt flakes
2 tspn ground turmeric
2 tspn Kashmiri chilli powder
2 tspn mild curry powder
1 cup (250ml) very cold soda water
1 garlic clove, finely grated
1 tspn finely grated fresh ginger
Rice bran oil, for shallow frying
3 curry leaf branches, washed and patted dry
coriander leaves, to garnish
1–2 limes, cut into wedges
Greek-style yoghurt, to serve

Coconut chutney (makes 1½ cups)
100g coconut flesh (or shredded coconut)
1½ tbsp coconut oil
1 tspn cumin seeds
1 tspn black mustard seeds
1 tspn chilli flakes
20 curry leaves, washed and patted dry
1 green chilli, chopped
1½ tspn tamarind purée
1 tspn brown sugar, or to taste
1 bunch of coriander, chopped

Method
Remove and thinly slice the core from the cauliflower and set aside. Cut or tear the rest of the cauliflower into small florets about 3–4cm in size. Pick the leaves and keep these for frying also.

In a large bowl, combine the chickpea flour, rice flour, baking powder, salt flakes and 1 teaspoon each of the turmeric, chilli powder and curry powder. Create a well in the middle, add the soda water, garlic and ginger, whisking out any lumps. Add the cauliflower florets and mix to coat. Chill for at least 15 minutes, or up to an hour.

To make the coconut chutney, place the coconut in a bowl and cover with just boiled water. Stand for five minutes to soften. Meanwhile, place the coconut oil, cumin and mustard seeds, chilli flakes, curry leaves and reserved cauliflower core slices in a frying pan over medium–high heat and cook for 3–4 minutes, or until the mustard seeds begin to pop and the cauliflower is softened.

Transfer to a blender, along with the remaining chutney ingredients and drained coconut. Whiz until smooth and combined, adding 1 tablespoon of water at a time to loosen. Season to taste.

Heat 3cm of rice bran oil in a wok or saucepan over high heat to 180°C; a little batter added to the oil shouldn’t take longer than 30 seconds to turn golden brown. Carefully add the well-dried curry leaf branches (they’ll make a loud noise!) and cook for 30 seconds, or until crisp. Drain on paper towel.

Working in batches, add the cauliflower florets and leaves to the hot oil after shaking away the excess batter and cook for 3–4 minutes, or until golden. Drain on paper towel.

Strain a quarter of the cooking oil into a cold saucepan, leaving a 5mm shimmer of oil in the pan. Return the pan to the heat with the remaining spices and cook for 1 minute, or until foaming. Add all the fried cauliflower and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes, or until coated and golden. Transfer to a serving platter and scatter with the crispy curry leaves and coriander.

Serve with the coconut chutney, lime wedges and yoghurt.

Photos and recipe from In Praise of Veg by Alice Zaslavsky. Photography by Ben Dearnley. Murdoch Books $59.99. Buy it here.

This article first appeared on Broadsheet on November 6, 2020. It was updated on April 29, 2021.